BY SARA CLIFFORD
For The Republic
NASHVILLE — Big Woods Brewing Co. is undergoing another expansion in Brown County — this time, literally into the big woods.
The owners of Big Woods, Quaff ON! Brewing Co. and Hard Truth Distilling Co. have entered an agreement to buy 90 acres along Old State Road 46 and Memorial Drive.
On the front of two wooded parcels, the owners plan to build a new distillery and tasting room featuring their Hard Truth liquors.
On the back parcel, they plan to build a facility where they can expand their brewing and distilling operations with packaging and storage, company Chairman Jeff McCabe said.
The distillery will be “a focal point for tourism” at the site, which the owners have named Hard Truth Hills.
“Our plan is to develop the site in a way that is consistent with the character of the community we live in,” said Ed Ryan, the company’s CEO and president, in a news release. He said the vision is to “maintain the natural beauty of the site as we create an accessible, park-like setting for our employees and guests.”
The land was bought from The Deppe Trust, a group of owners who have ties to Franklin, McCabe said.
McCabe declined to discuss the financial terms of the sale, only saying that this would be “our biggest project yet.”
The plan is to develop the project in two phases, starting in the spring of 2017, Ryan said.
McCabe predicted the company would add about 50 jobs in distilling, brewing and tourism-related areas.
“We expect to be hiring almost continually for the next several months,” he said.
The company already employs more than 200 people among the four restaurants, two brewing facilities and one bar it operates in Nashville, Bloomington, Martinsville and Speedway, though that number fluctuates seasonally, McCabe said.
“With the acquisition of Firecracker Hill, we are back home again and we have the opportunity to grow right here where it all started,” McCabe said.
Where it all started was in an 800-square-foot space in a Nashville alley, the former site of The Jug restaurant. That building was remodeled into a timber frame Big Woods brewhouse and opened in November 2009.Big Woods Brewing Co. was launched by Ryan, McCabe and his son-in-law, homebrewer Tim O’Bryan.
The three are still steering the growth of the company, which now includes Quaff ON! brewing facilities in Nashville and Martinsville and craft beer brands distributed all over the state.
Expansion has been nearly constant.
In 2011, the group purchased the George C. Tucker building in the heart of downtown Nashville and remodeled it to include an all-ages pizza restaurant. A bar and entertainment space, brewing and distilling facilities and a Hard Truth tasting room have also been added in “Big Woods Village.”
Quaff ON! Bloomington restaurant and pub opened in 2014.
In 2015, the company announced the building of a 7,500-square-foot restaurant and beer garden in Speedway. It opened in May, in time for 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the raceway down the street.
In February 2016, the company bought Three Pints Brewery in Martinsville to further expand brewing capacity.
In the meantime through the Hard Truth Distilling Co., they’ve been developing a line of spirits including gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, bourbon and agave.
The owners have had an eye on Firecracker Hill for quite some time, but they’ve also looked at several other properties in Brown County, McCabe said.
“Really, literally, the last few years, we thought it would be a great place with the proximity to town, with all the activity going on, and yet it’s a really beautiful, park-like setting — a unique property in that, in a way, it’s right there in town, really.”
In developing the distillery concept for Hard Truth Hills, “we’ve kind of been inspired by some of the great distilleries around the country, and of course in Kentucky,” McCabe said.
With this setting, “we think we’ve got an opportunity to do something really unique, here.”
Where the entrance will be to Hard Truth Hills has not been determined yet, McCabe said.The front of the two diagonally-connected properties borders Old State Road 46 and Memorial Drive along the Brown County Fairgrounds. Firecracker Hill has one entrance off Old State Road 46; however, that entrance serves a separate, 230-acre parcel which has recently been logged and is not part of this sale.
Immediate next steps include getting the property rezoned for the uses the owners envision for it and discussing annexation and the extension of town utilities, McCabe said.
The parcel along Memorial Drive is currently zoned R2, residential, and the back parcel is zoned FR, forest reserve, Planning Director Christine Ritzmann said. FR allows many industrial and residential uses, as well as many uses that are not allowed in R1 or R2, she said. She said the type of zoning the owners would need would depend on whether or not the land was part of the town or not, and what exactly they planned to do with it.
As of late last week, they hadn’t filed any paperwork with the zoning office yet, she said.
The earliest the rezoning could be discussed would be during the January Brown County Area Plan Commission meeting, she said.
Nashville Town Manager/Economic Development Director Scott Rudd said it would be up to the town council whether or not the 90 acres are annexed into town or remain only in the county. Typically, the town has a property owner sign a waiver of remonstrance — saying the owner wouldn’t fight annexation if the town decided to go that route — before it extends town services, he said.
Council President “Buzz” King said the town generally will only annex property owners who want to be annexed.
McCabe said the owners plan to sign a waiver of remonstrance by Monday, Dec. 19. That’s also the docket deadline for the January plan commission meeting.
Whether or not Hard Truth Hills does become part of town, the property owners will still pay county taxes, plus additional town taxes if they are annexed, King said.
“The important thing is this is for the growth and health of Brown County,” King said. “Everything they do out there, that’s going to help Brown County because we’re going to have new jobs. And who’s going to fill those jobs? Brown County people.”
Last summer, the town committed $5,000 to pay an expert for a study what kind of incentives, if any, would be mutually beneficial to Nashville and Big Woods.
McCabe said nothing has arisen from that study; the company has not asked for any incentives from the town for this project.
“We decided this is where we’re going to be,” he said.
The owners are proud to be “crafting an Indiana tradition here,” McCabe said.
“We live in Brown County and we raised our kids in Brown County, and I think we understand what the community’s character is and what the residents might want, and we think this is consistent with the focus on tourism in Brown County.
“To me, it’s a great time to be in Brown County and be in that business, so we think we can support the growth that’s already starting to really take hold.”